Autumn Magic Sampler
Today was the day.
Today, she intended to confess her deepest, darkest secrets to Keaton. It was past time. After all these months together, he deserved to know the truth.
Stomach in knots, Autumn Thorne cut through the dense woods between their family estates. In the clearing between the two adjoining pieces of land, Keaton would be waiting.
“Keaton,” she said with a sigh. Her forever love.
Family legend held that any born of the Thorne bloodline would only have one true soulmate. No other love would they take. It didn’t matter, because Autumn had found hers, and she was more than content. She was blissful.
Ten months earlier, they both had returned to Leiper’s Fork from their respective colleges. Full of dreams and high hopes for the future, she had uncharacteristically agreed when her best friend, Diane, suggested a casual graduation celebration at the local restaurant.
Keaton Carlyle had been seated at the long, glossy pine bar with two of his friends and his cousin. With his shaggy dark hair, eyes the shade of the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean, and a quick-to-flash sunny smile, he’d made many women’s hearts flutter.
Autumn had been no exception. The moment she entered the overcrowded room, Cupid’s arrow had lodged in her heart with a resounding thwack. From that very second on, she’d only had eyes for Keaton.
And he for her.
She laughed in remembrance of their initial meeting.
Both had been struck dumb in the presence of the other.
Wine flowed freely as they hid in the dark corner of the room and ignored everything and everyone. The magic of the alcohol had done its trick and eased them into a flirty conversation. Within twenty minutes, they’d set a time and location for their first date.
That night had been the beginning of a beautiful relationship. One that far exceeded anything Autumn could’ve dreamed. Keaton was an attentive lover who catered to her every whim, and she adored the very ground he walked on.
“True love,” she murmured. Rare and precious.
Last night, he’d hinted at a future together, going so far as to ask what type of stone she wanted should he choose an engagement ring. The answer was obvious: aquamarine to match his incredible eyes.
When she at last reached the clearing, she found him half asleep on a blanket under the large oak tree. For a moment she stared, unable to catch her breath. He was beautiful in all the ways that mattered, and he was hers.
“Hey, babe,” Keaton greeted with a lazy grin. He held out his arm, and she curled into him.
She rested her head on his chest and listened to his steady heartbeat.
“Were you serious last night?”
She lifted her head and met his sleepy gaze. “Why are you so tired?”
“Late night. One of the horses was colicky.” He rolled on top of her and pinned her arms over her head with one of his hands. The other quickly found its way under her sundress and explored the waistband of her panties. He inched his fingers beneath the lace and touched her most sensitive area. “But not too tired to make love to you.” He grinned and lowered his head to capture her lips.
Autumn broke their kiss before they became too heated. “Keaton, we need to talk.”
He lifted his dark head to judge her earnestness. “Can’t we talk after?”
“No. I need to tell you something.”
“So serious!” he teased, flaring his eyes wide.
She smiled despite herself. His fun, laid-back attitude was easy to adopt.
“Will you promise me, whatever I tell you doesn’t leave this clearing?”
“Of course.” He sat up and pulled her to rest between his long legs.
“I’ve thought about how to say it a million times. I don’t know how.”
Keaton ran his index finger along her temple and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “Just say it, babe. It can’t be that dire.” He grew still. “Unless you plan to break up with me. Is that what this is about?”
“No! Goodness, no. I love you, Keaton, and I want us to be together for always.”
He sighed and hugged her tight. “For always.”
Because there was no way to soften the words she needed to say, she blurted, “I’m a witch.”
“I’m a witch.”
A sick ball of dread formed low in her belly. He thought she was kidding.
Her serious tone penetrated his amusement.
“Babe, there’s no such thing as a witch.”
She shifted to kneel in front of him. “There is.”
“Is this like a Wiccan thing? Where you worship the trees and shit? I’m cool with that; just don’t tell my mother. She might flip.”
“No, it’s not a Wiccan thing. They aren’t witches in the real sense of the word.”
“Autumn, come on. I’m too tired for game playing today.”
A demonstration was in order. “Watch.”
Autumn held her hand out flat and concentrated. She pulled from her element and created a beautiful, glowing fireball. The orange-red flame pulsed and danced in her hand. Smiling, she shifted her gaze to Keaton and froze.
His horror-filled eyes were locked on the flame.
Her earlier dread returned with a vengeance. “Keaton?”
“You’re a witch,” he croaked.
“Y-yes.” She balled her fist and extinguished the fire. “I’ve wanted to tell you so many times. I—”
With his gaze still locked onto where the flaming ball had been, he asked, “Do you cast spells and things like that?”
“Yes. But only—”
“Love spells?” he demanded, expression hardening.
Her nervous laugh came out stilted and uneasy. “No. There’s no such thing as a love spell.”
“What about an obsession or desire spell?”
His angry intensity unnerved her. She had no idea where he was going with this.
“I suppose there are spells like that, but—”
Once again, he cut her off. “Remove it.”
Autumn swallowed past her suddenly parched throat and wet her lips. “Pardon?”
“The spell you cast on me. I want you to remove it.”
“Baby, I never put a spell on you.”
He scrambled to his feet. “You’re a liar!”
“No! I’m not lying. There’s no spell.”
“This explains so much,” he ranted as he paced. “God, I’m stupid!”
She stood and tentatively approached him with her hands held out. “Keaton, it’s me. I’m still the same person. I love you. And I promise, there is no spell.”
Hands tucked behind his back, he skipped out of her reach as if her touch were contagious. “Don’t fucking touch me!”
Shocked by his behavior, Autumn’s own turmoil bubbled inside. His attitude had become completely unreasonable. “Why are you behaving like this?” she demanded.
“Because I don’t like having my free will taken from me.” He gripped his scalp and shook his head. “Christ, this explains so much,” he repeated.
“What? What exactly does it explain?”
“My obsession with you. You’re always on my mind. Even my dreams are filled with you.” He pointed to her face, and his countenance hardened, growing ugly in his rage. “You did this to me. I don’t know whether you thought it would be funny, or whether you honestly believed this is a way to tie a man to you, but the game is over, sweetheart.” His tone was scathing and bitter at the same time.
Shock held her immobile. Speechless and hurt, all she could do was stare.
“If you won’t remove the spell, I’ll find someone who will. When I’m through with you, your name will be worthless in this town. No man will come near you.”
Tears seeped from her eyes. She swiped at them in a vain attempt to hide her devastation. “Why are you being nasty? There’s no spell.”
“You want to play it that way? Fine. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Keaton, you promised me you wouldn’t say anything,” she cried. “You promised.”
“You remove the spell and stay the fuck away from me, and I’ll consider keeping quiet.”
Pressure built in Autumn’s chest. This must be what if felt like to have a heart attack. The inability to take a deep breath, the sheer agony of the heart struggling to beat, the knowledge that the end of something precious was imminent.
The breeze picked up, and the trees around them began to sway. Back and forth they bent under the pressure of the howling wind. Branches cracked and plummeted to the earth with loud thuds. The blanket swirled up from the ground, caught against his legs, then whipped free to disappear on the air current.
Keaton lost his tan. “What the fuck?”
Lightning struck the ground on the opposite side of the clearing.
“If you’re doing this, Autumn, knock it off!” he shouted over the building elements.
Words whispered through the tree and spoke to her. In her mind’s eye, she pictured the athame from her altar. When it appeared in her hand, Keaton jerked in fear.
She didn’t have time to cast a circle. He would bolt by then. Improvisation was required, and with the wickedly sharp tip, she scored her palm. “I bind thee, Keaton John Carlyle.”
“What the fuck are you doing? Autumn!”
“I bind thee. Never shall you reveal the truth about me or any of the Thornes. Not in word, not in writing, not in gesture, not in deed. I bind thee from revealing the truth.” She lifted her face to the sky and spread her arms wide, palms facing upward. “Goddess hear my plea. Grant me the power to bind this man’s speech.”
Lightning zipped sideways across the sky and struck the tree behind Keaton’s back. His involuntary yell echoed around the clearing.
“You crazy bitch!” His words ended in a gurgle, and he clawed at his throat. Fear filled his bulging eyes, and his face turned an alarming shade of purple.
For a brief moment, Autumn’s own throat seized in response. Young witches couldn’t always control their power, and she worried her impromptu spell may have collapsed his larynx. When his face returned to a more normal shade, he cursed again.
She breathed a sigh of relief. While she might be angry with him, accidentally killing him would’ve left her devastated.
He stormed to where she stood in the center of the clearing. “What did you do to me?” he rasped.
“I neutralized your threat.”
Wide-eyed, his gaze shifted to the bloody knife in her hand. “You stay away from me. Do you hear me?”
Keaton beat a hasty retreat and ran away as fast as his legs could carry him.
Energy depleted, Autumn stumbled to the flattened grass where their blanket had been. Kneeling, she ran her hand over the indentation their bodies had left. How had it gone so wrong so fast? How was it possible to feel such an aching hollowness inside, to feel on the brink of death, and yet continue to breathe?
She placed a hand on her lower abdomen. She’d never had a chance to tell him about the baby they’d made. Based on his reaction, another revelation was out of the question for the moment. With a silent prayer to the Goddess that her binding spell would remain solid, Autumn curled into a tight ball on the ground.
Grief caught up to her. Harsh, hiccuping sobs shook her frame, and all she could do was give herself over to the pain. Hours passed, and the sun set. Still she remained unable to drum up the energy or will to move.
She stared at the overhead stars peeping through the branches of the mighty oak. Oh, to be there! Far, far away from the hell she was experiencing here on Earth.
A beam of light settled on her face.
She turned her head toward her sister’s voice.
Winnie rushed to her side. “Sister? What’s wrong?” When she noticed the smattering of blood, she freaked. “Tums, where are you hurt? Where is the blood coming from?”
Autumn opened her mouth to speak. All but one word eluded her. “Keaton,” she rasped.
“Is it Keaton? Did something happen to him?”
The tears she thought had dried up flowed once again. Warm, loving arms wrapped around her and pulled her close.
“Tums, talk to me. Was Keaton hurt?” Winnie asked urgently.
“No, but I can’t talk about it. I just want to go home.”
“Okay. Hold on.”
With a quick incantation, Winnie teleported the two of them back to Thorne Manor.
“Why don’t you go lie down. I’ll bring you a sandwich and a cup of tea,” Winnie suggested.
“Honestly, I don’t think I can keep anything down right now.” Autumn hugged her sister and drew in some of her warm, healing energy. “But I love you for offering.”
As she trudged upstairs to her room, she wondered if she shouldn’t try to speak to Keaton one more time. Surely, he must’ve calmed enough to see reason?
She called his cell phone but received no answer.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow she would visit him and tell him about the baby. They could decide where to go from there. If he still didn’t want to be part of her life, she’d raise their child on her own.
She’d been wrong to blurt out her secret without feeling the waters first. But she could afford to allow Keaton time to adjust to the shock. He would see this was all a misunderstanding. Keaton was level-headed and calm in most situations, and Autumn had no doubt he’d see reason.
* * *
When morning dawned and brought with it a glorious sunrise, Autumn stood on the front porch step and absorbed the sun’s rays. The warmth fed her soul and restored her faith to full power.
With a cleansing breath, she borrowed a page from her younger sister’s book of optimism and headed to the Carlyle estate.
As Autumn pulled into the drive, a strange foreboding took hold. Diane’s yellow VW Bug was parked outside the Carlyle house, and Autumn couldn’t help wondering why her friend would be here this early. While Diane had made no secret of the fact she’d be happy to hook any of the Carlyle brothers or cousins, she hadn’t had any luck in gaining their interest.
Keaton’s brother, Cooper, answered her knock. “Hey, Coop. Is Keaton home?”
His handsome face took on an unhealthy shade of green.
“He… uh, now’s not a good time, Autumn.”
Nausea churned in her stomach. As her unease grew, she worried she might lose the half muffin she’d managed to choke down this morning.
The truth was written on Coop’s face. The pained sympathy. The distaste for what she was about to be put through.
Without another word, she shoved by Coop and raced for Keaton’s room.